Using Facebook at Work: How Social Media Laws Affect Your Job

Feb 19, 2015 - Joe Matar
The rise of social media has lifted many internet users from behind screen names and anonymity. As a result, what we do online directly affects our public image, as well as people who are associated with us -- most importantly our employers. Businesses are beginning to realize that most of their employees are among the 84 percent of U.S. adults active on the Internet and 56 percent of U.S. adults on social media networks. These companies are now working to monitor employees and protect their corporate reputations. So what can an employer really do online, and what’s considered corporate overreach?

Your employer can Google you

It’s legal everywhere in the U.S. for a prospective or current employer to search your name via search engines such as Google to find information about you that’s accessible to anyone else online. This means if you don’t have the right privacy settings on your social media accounts, your employer has the right to read through everything that’s visible -- and then use that information to inform decisions about your employment status. To avoid getting into trouble, you need to constantly manage the information that’s available about you online. Be sure that the privacy settings on all your social media accounts restrict public access. To restrict public access on Facebook, follow these steps: (Click here to tweet these steps.)
  1. Go to the upper right corner of Facebook and click on the button with a lock.
  2. The Privacy Checkup panel will be revealed.
  3. Click on the words See More Settings.
  4. On the Privacy Settings and Tools page click on Who can see your future posts?
  5. Click on  the Public button.
  6. In the Who should see this drop down menu click More Options.
  7. Choose what group you want to see the posts.

Your employer can see anything on the internet that’s not private

Customizing your privacy settings isn’t always enough when you’re using social media to interact with third-party sites. Commenting on news articles, blogs or other websites through a social media account doesn’t extend the protection of your social media settings to these types of sites. Additionally, being a terrible person on the Internet is finally beginning to have repercussions in the real world, despite the sluggish legal response. Websites exist that identify and publicly shame people who behave reprehensibly online -- and this is entirely legal as they access information that’s publicly available. (All these websites do is repost this public information.) Luckily, this is a risk that can be easily avoided by simply not posting thoughts on the Internet that you wouldn’t say in front of other people -- especially a current or future employer.

Your employer can ask for social media access… sometimes

More and more businesses are demanding social media access information from their employees. While some states have passed laws to limit this invasive behavior, many more don’t have specific laws to prohibit companies from forcing their employees to give up their login information. It’s important to understand the legal protections your state offers and to insist on your rights when appropriate. For example, if someone at your company implies that your failure to comply could result in discrimination, then the company already broke the law. Also keep in mind your employer can’t force you to disclose that you even have specific social media accounts, which will only work as long as your privacy settings are properly tuned.

Your employer can monitor your web use at work

When you’re using a work computer, your employer is entitled to install anything they want on that computer, including keyloggers and internet usage monitoring software -- so whatever you do on your work computer is recorded by your employer. All states have some laws regarding eavesdropping, but few directly address employee monitoring, and many don’t require your employer to inform you about their practices. These programs can circumvent many privacy laws because you’re giving your employer the information that you input into their computer. For these reason, it’s better to avoid using social media on work devices to avoid any negative repercussions. Samantha Stauf is a marketing professional who writes business and career articles in her free time. She can be found on Twitter at @SamStauf.